Friday, August 3, 2012

Wash-Rinse-Repeat: Cultivating Sibling Love and Respect

Recently I sent my kids to their room to clean it up. Their room is small, they don't have many toys and not much needed putting away. If they worked together, they probably could have gotten the job done in 5 minutes. Instead it took them an hour. They spent much of that hour fighting over who made the mess, who should clean it up, who the toys/clothes/books actually belonged to. They argued over who was helping and who was laying on the floor. They hollered over how unfair it was that they had to clean up after each other when they didn't make the mess.

Their argument over how to handle their mess made me think about how they relate to each other. This isn't a new argument. It happens almost daily. Our three kids share a room. Most people think this is absolutely crazy, and maybe it is. We needed the space it offered to have them in one room, but more importantly, we wanted them to cultivate a closeness with each other that only living and sharing at close quarters can do.

Like all siblings, my kids fight. They are cruel to each other, resent each other, and annoy each other for fun. They always get in trouble for it when we see it.  We stop the behavior, hand out consequences, facilitate reconciliation. Having three kids in one room aged 8, 6 and 3 means that this process feels like wash-rinse-repeat...and repeat, and repeat...

Listening to Lord of the Flies play itself out in their room I realized we are being pretty reactive with our kids in terms of their relationships with each other. We aren't doing anything to cultivate healthy sibling relationships. I know this is true when I see them hurt each other out of frustration because their boundaries or differing interests and personalities aren't being respected.

In those moments I can't really engage them in a conversation about how to respect each other and love each other. One or all of them is hurt and now one or all is in need of discipline. Discipline can be, in itself, a loving act, but it isn't always easy to see the love when you are in the midst of it. Hindsight is usually where the love is felt in discipline.

I want to encourage love and respect between my children. I want them to like each other and come to be friends, real friends. The sibling relationship is naturally a sort of combative one. Kids compete for attention, time, toys, personal space. It's easy to see why some siblings lose track of each other once they move out on their own.

I'll admit finding positive ways for my kids to interact with one another that don't devolve into arguments is more challenging than I thought, but we are trying. When I see my kids helping each other and being kind to each other I am quick to point it out. I praise the child being kind and encourage the recipient of the kindness to appreciate or reciprocate the act. I have been encouraging them to come up with ways to be kind to one another, to help each other and to show each other respect.

It should come as no surprise that they are learning the lesson better in the moments of kindness than in the reactionary punishments.

Moms, how do you foster love and respect between the siblings in your families?

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